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Written Statements

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 19 July 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 19 July 2007

Treasury

Budget ECOFIN (13 July)

On 13 July 2007, I represented the UK at the Budget Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN).

The Council conducted its first reading of the EC’s budget for 2008. The Council adopted a draft budget that was supported by all member states.

During a conciliation meeting between the Council and the European Parliament, five joint statements relating to the budget were agreed. These concerned: structural and cohesion funds and rural development 2007-13 programmes; recruitment in relation to the 2004 and 2007 enlargement; decentralised agencies; executive agencies; and assigned revenues. The Government are supportive of these statements, which call for a greater degree of transparency, sound financial management and budget discipline in the areas they concern.

Landscape Review

HM Treasury is today publishing a summary of the findings of a Landscape Review of National Savings and Investments (NS&I), commissioned by HM Treasury Ministers in 2005, copies of which are available in the Libraries of both Houses. This statement sets out the findings of this review. Broadly speaking, the Landscape Review of NS&I concluded that:

Since its last review in 2000 NS&I had performed well. Between 2000 and 2005 it raised £7.8 billion of net finance (contribution to the Government’s stock of debt) and £1.22 billion of value added (savings to Government made by raising debt through the retail market at a lower cost than through wholesale borrowing).

NS&I should therefore retain as its single strategic objective the reduction of the cost to the tax-payer of Government borrowing.

NS&I should prioritise cost-effectiveness to Government over the pursuit of market share. HM Treasury will reflect this when setting NS&I’s net finance and value added targets. As a result, NS&I will not be growing and can be expected to bring in a steady rather than increasing amount of net finance going forward.

Although there are a number of constraints which prevent other savings providers from competing with NS&I on a level playing field, NS&I is not having a significant competitive impact at its current size relative to market. However, the Treasury should take into account the market impact of NS&I’s activities when setting its financing targets.

Although NS&I will not move to being FSA regulated, it should comply fully with FSA requirements where applicable, on a voluntary basis. NS&I has agreed with the FSA that it will update the FSA biannually on progress against its plans, will monitor and respond to relevant changes in FSA regulations, and will report on progress in its annual report.

The review also recommended that NS&I should develop a revised corporate strategy incorporating the conclusions of this review. This process has been completed, and NS&I’s new five-year strategy “NS&I Adding Value” was launched on 1 April 2007. Further information on the new strategy can be found in NS&I’s 2006-07 annual report and accounts which are also being laid before the House today.

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

European Directives (Accounting and Audit)

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

My Department is today publishing the Government’s conclusions following the responses to the consultation on the implementation of the directive on the Statutory Audit of Annual and Consolidated Accounts (Directive 2006/43/EC). Draft regulations for the implementation of the directive are also being published.

My Department is also publishing the Government’s conclusions following the responses to the consultation on the implementation of a Directive (2006/46/EC) which amends EC Accounting Directives, (the 4th and 7th Company Law Directives, Bank Accounts and Insurance Company Accounts Directive) (Directive 2006/46/EC).

These documents will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available on the BERR website shortly.

Regional Development Agencies

I have decided to re-appoint the following Board Members as detailed for a further one to three years accordingly.

Board member name

RDA

Length of re-appointment (years)

Chris Thompson

One NorthEast

3

Alison Thain, OBE

One NorthEast

3

Councillor Bob Symonds

One NorthEast

3

Gerard Coyne

Advantage West Midlands

3

Sue Prince, OBE

Advantage West Midlands

3

Councillor Diane Rayner

Advantage West Midlands

3

Linda Pollard

Yorkshire Forward

3

Jan Wilson

Yorkshire Forward

3

Laura Moynahan

Yorkshire Forward

2

Ashad Javed

Yorkshire Forward

2

Lord Haskins

Yorkshire Forward

1

Alan Courts

SWRDA

2

Paul Burall

EEDA

3

Shelia Childerhouse

EEDA

3

John Merry

NWDA

3

Peter Hensman

NWDA

3

Brenda Smith

NWDA

1

Sir Martin Harris

NWDA

1

Steve Brown

EMDA

3

Jonathan Collins

EMDA

3

Geoffrey Stevens

EMDA

3

Gary Hunt

EMDA

3

Phillip Tasker

EMDA

3

The re-appointments will begin on 14 December 2007.

I have placed further details of these re-appointments in the Libraries of both Houses. These re-appointments were made in accordance with the Code of Practice of the Commissioner for Public Appointments,

Defence

Afghanistan Roulement

The next roulement of UK forces in Afghanistan will take place in October 2007. The force package that we currently plan to deploy will see the lead formation, some 12 Mechanised Brigade, replaced by 52 Infantry Brigade, which will provide the majority of the units serving in Afghanistan. The forces deploying include elements of:

52 Infantry Brigade Headquarters and 258 Signal Squadron

846 Naval Air Squadron

Naval Strike Wing

40 Commando Royal Marines

Armoured Support Group, Royal Marines

The Household Cavalry Regiment

1st Battalion Coldstream Guards

2 Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards)

1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles

4th Regiment, Royal Artillery

36 Engineer Regiment

27 Transport Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

5 General Support Medical Regiment

1 Battalion, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Elements of The King's Royal Hussars

Elements of The Queen's Royal Lancers

Elements of 5th Regiment, Royal Artillery

Elements of 16th Regiment, Royal Artillery

Elements of 32nd Regiment, Royal Artillery

Elements of 39th Regiment, Royal Artillery

Elements of 47th Regiment, Royal Artillery

Elements of 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)

Elements of 70 Gurkha Field Support Squadron

Headquarters 62 Works Group Royal Engineers, 519 Specialist Team Royal Engineers (Works)

Elements of 10th Signal Regiment, The Royal Corps of Signals

Elements Signal of 14th Regiment (Electronic Warfare), the Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 21st Signal Regiment (Air Support), the Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 30th Signal Regiment, the Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps.

Elements of 1 Close Support Company, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Elements of 7th Battalion, The Rifles

Elements of 52nd Lowland, 6 Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland

Elements of 9 Regiment, Army Air Corps.

Headquarters 102 Logistic Brigade

Elements of 9 Supply Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 12 Logistic Support Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 13 Air Assault Support Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps (47 Air Dispatch Squadron)

Elements of 24 Postal Courier and Movement Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 29 Postal Courier and Movement Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 148 Squadron Expeditionary Forces Institute (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Hospital Squadron formed from 201 Field Hospital (V) and 243 Field Hospital (V)

Elements of 7 Air Assault Battalion, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

101 Provost Company, 5th Provost Regiment, Royal Military Police

Elements of 1 Military Intelligence Brigade

Elements of Joint Civil Military Co-operation (CIMIC) Group

Elements of 90 Signals Unit Royal Air Force

904 Expeditionary Air Wing Royal Air Force

Elements of 1 Air Control Centre Royal Air Force

15 Regiment Field Squadron Royal Air Force

7 Force Protection Wing Headquarters Royal Air Force

Elements of:

18 Squadron Royal Air Force

24 Squadron Royal Air Force

27 Squadron Royal Air Force

30 Squadron Royal Air Force

47 Squadron Royal Air Force

70 Squadron Royal Air Force

Elements of 1 Air Movements Wing Royal Air Force

Elements of 85 (Expeditionary Logistic) Wing Headquarters, Royal Air Force

Elements of 2 Motor Transport Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 5001 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of Mobile Catering Support Unit

Elements of Tactical Medical Wing

Elements of Tactical Armament Squadron

Elements of Tactical Imagery Intelligence Wing

Elements of 151 Transport Regiment (Volunteers) The Royal Logistic Corps

The bulk of these units represent direct replacements for the Afghanistan deployments I announced to the House on 1 February 2007,Official Report, columns 19-20WS, and 26 February 2007, Official Report, columns 619-635. The House will be aware, however, that all military operations are subject to regular review. As a result, I have therefore agreed to deploy an additional troop of the highly regarded VIKING Protected Mobility Vehicles, manned by Royal Marines and the Queen's Royal Lancers, to enhance further the Task Force Helmand's ability to manoeuvre. In addition, from 1 August 2007 to 31 July 2008 the UK will act as Principal Co-ordinating Nation for NATO's management of Kandahar airfield. I am also considering options to enhance our support for the Afghan National Security Forces In consequence the total UK commitment in Afghanistan is likely to be around 7,800 by the end of this year.

Volunteer and Regular members of the reserve forces will continue to deploy to Afghanistan as part of this integrated force package, and we expect to have eventually issued in the order of 750 call-out notices to fill over 600 posts. On completion of their mobilisation procedures, the reservists will undertake a period of training and, where applicable, integration with their respective receiving units. The majority will serve on operations for six or seven months, although some may have shorter tours. As part of this commitment, we expect up to 20 members of the sponsored reserves to be in theatre at any one time.

The House will recall too, the importance I attach to burden-sharing within the International Security Assistance Force. In this context, I should like to welcome the recent decision by the Danish Parliament to increase their deployment in Helmand. Operating under 52 Infantry Brigade's command will be a Danish Battlegroup which, building on our close co-operation with Danish forces in Iraq, will exercise tactical command over two British infantry companies. This important increase in the Danish contribution to Task Force Helmand is a significant boost to its operational capability and its capacity to help stabilise and secure Helmand province.

Iraq Roulement

The next routine roulement of UK forces in Iraq will take place in November and December 2007. The force package that we currently plan to deploy to Iraq during this roulement will see the lead formation, currently one Mechanised Brigade, replaced by four Mechanised Brigade, which will provide the majority of UK forces from 1 December 2007. The units deploying as part of four Mechanised Brigade are as follows:

4th Mechanised Brigade Headquarters and 204 Signal Squadron

The Royal Dragoon Guards

1st Battalion Scots Guards

The Royal Scots Borders, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland

1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment (King's, Lancashire and Border)

1st Battalion The 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment (1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment as of 1 September 07)

21 Engineer Regiment

12 Logistic Support Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

1 Close Support Medical Regiment

Elements of 845 Naval Air Squadron (Sea King)

Elements of 847 Naval Air Squadron (Lynx)

D Battery, 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery

K Battery, 5th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)

62 Works Group Royal Engineers, 523 Specialist Team Royal Engineers (Works)

Elements of 3rd (UK) Division Signal Regiment, The Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 1st (UK) Armoured Division Signal Regiment, The Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 10th Signal Regiment, The Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 14th Signal Regiment (Electronic Warfare), The Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 21st Signal Regiment (Air Support), The Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 6 Supply Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 16 Tank Transporter Squadron, 7 Transport Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 84 Medical Supply Squadron, 9 Supply Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 150 Transport Regiment (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 24 Postal, Courier and Movement Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 29 Postal, Courier and Movement Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 148 Expeditionary Forces Institute Squadron (Volunteers), The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 1 Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

115 Provost Company, 1st Provost Regiment, Royal Military Police

Elements of 102 Military Working Dog Support Unit, Royal Army Veterinary Corps

Elements of 1 Military Intelligence Brigade

No 28 (AC) Squadron, Royal Air Force (Merlin)

619 Tactical Air Control Party, Royal Air Force

627 Tactical Air Control Party, Royal Air Force

Members of the reserve forces will continue to deploy to Iraq as part of this force package, and we expect to issue around 420 call-out notices to fill approximately 340 posts. Most will deploy to theatre in November and serve on operations for six to seven months, although some may have shorter tours. As part of this commitment, we expect up to 10 members of the sponsored reserves to be in theatre at any one time.

In February, the then Prime Minister set out our plans for Iraq in 2007, centring on changes to the posture of UK forces in Basra in Multi-National Division—South East (MND-SE) and consequent force level reductions. UK forces have transferred control of a number of bases in and around Basra to the 10th Division of the Iraqi army. We expect to complete the final part of these plans, involving the transfer of control of Basra palace to the Iraqi authorities, before this roulement takes place. As a result UK force levels in Iraq will fall to around 5,000 troops.

The force package we deploy in November and December will depend on conditions on the ground, in particular the security situation in the south and progress on handover of security responsibility to the Iraqi civil authorities in Basra province. We will continue to keep UK force levels in Iraq under review. With the permission of the Speaker, I intend to give an update on operations soon after the recess and will notify the House then should there be any change to our plans.

Gurkha Service Pensions

I am pleased to inform the House that there will be a significant increase in Gurkha pensions backdated to January 2006. This increase is in line with the tripartite agreement which established a linkage between Indian army pensions and those of the British Brigade of Gurkhas.

It has always been our policy to ensure a fair deal for the 26,500 Gurkha pensioners mainly living in Nepal, who will receive an increase in their pension rates. This is in addition to the 7 per cent. increase they received earlier this year as part of their annual inflationary uplift. Over 85 per cent. of pensioners who were of the rank of corporal or below will receive an increase to their pension of at least 19 per cent. I am also announcing today a review into the mechanism by which we uprate Gurkha pensions annually.

The Gurkha pension scheme currently cost some £33 million per year and it is calculated that this increase will add to the cost by £6 million per year.

The increased benefits have been included in the Gurkha offer to transfer to the armed forces pension scheme, also affecting 3,400 serving and 2,400 recently retired Gurkhas, which I announced to the House on 8 March 2007, Official Report, columns 141-42WS.

This increase sustains Gurkha service pensions at a fair and appropriate level and demonstrates the Government’s continuing commitment to the retired Gurkha community in Nepal. It also reinforces the UK’s long-standing links with the Government of Nepal, whose co-operation and support for the recruitment of Nepalese citizens into the Brigade of Gurkhas we greatly value.

Ballistic Missile Defence

I have said that I would keep the House informed of progress on Ballistic Missile Defence. I hope to be able to make an announcement shortly.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Postgraduate Students (Counter-Proliferation Screening)

The Voluntary Vetting Scheme (VVS) is an arrangement designed to prevent states of proliferation concern using the UK as a training ground for their scientists and engineers. It is administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and seeks co-operation from universities in identifying postgraduate applicants of proliferation concern. The Government asses the proliferation risk and inform the university, which then decides whether or not to offer a place to the applicant.

As the proliferation threat has evolved, we have looked again at whether there is room to improve the scheme. In particular, and as recommended by the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), we have looked at the scope to make it compulsory, so that we catch a greater proportion of students of potential concern. We have also looked to shift the emphasis from universities to Government, where both feel it properly belongs.

Proposed Changes

In essence, the student section of the Immigration Rules contains a requirement for certain postgraduate students to have prior counter-proliferation clearance in order to qualify for a visa. The proposed new scheme—the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)—requires all non-EEA students in the designated categories to apply for counter-proliferation (CP) clearance. Details of the disciplines affected by these provisions will appear in the ‘Rules’. There is also a requirement to obtain CP clearance when students wish to extend their stay in the UK (for example, when moving from undergraduate studies to a postgraduate programme that is covered by the provisions of the new scheme). Clearance (in the form of a certificate) will be obtained through the FCO, using an easy-to-use, online form, and we aim to process the vast majority of applications within 10 working days. A separate clearance certificate will be required for each separate institution or programme of study.

We estimate that the ATAS will substantially increase the proportion of students of potential concern who are subject to scrutiny. At the same time, we would tighten the scheme considerably by assessing predominantly PhD and Masters by research students, rather than all postgraduate students of potential concern, as was the case under the VVS. However, we would still wish to assess the small number of students wishing to undertake taught Masters studies in Physics, Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering or Materials Technology, due to potential CP concerns. This allows us to target the areas of greatest concern more efficiently and in a manner proportionate to the threat. It is in line with the Government’s publicly stated CP policy, and is a useful reaffirmation of our commitment. The academic community has also been extensively consulted and is supportive of the new scheme.

Timing

We anticipate implementing a voluntary go-live date for the scheme on Monday 3 September 2007. From this date onwards we will be seeking volunteers from Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to advise their students to apply for ATAS clearance. However it will not be a mandatory requirement under the Immigration Rules at this point and we will continue operating the VVS during this transition period. Assuming no problems are found we would have a mandatory go-live date of 1 November 2007 with a corresponding amendment to the Immigration Rules. This date has been decided after consultation with the UK academic community and allows them to deal with their busiest time for new arrivals, that is; September and October, without having to produce amended offer letters to meet the ATAS requirements.

General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC), 23 July 2007

The General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will be held on 23 July in Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

General Affairs

4th Cohesion Report

Commissioner for Regional Policy, Danuta Hübner, is expected to brief the Council on the 4th Cohesion report, which provides an update on economic, social and territorial cohesion. It also provides an analysis of the impact of cohesion policy at national and Community level in the EU. The report also asks a series of questions to guide discussion: can cohesion policy can adapt to the new challenges facing regions in the coming years; can it further develop an integrated and more flexible approach to development/growth and jobs; and how adequate is the policy management system for 2007-13? The Government welcome these questions as a basis for debate, providing the discussion does not prejudge the fundamental review of the EU’s budget taking place in 2008-09.

External Relations

Doha Development Round

Commissioner for Trade, Peter Mandelson, is expected to brief the Council on the latest negotiations in the Doha development round. The Council is expected to discuss next steps including work to be taken forward by the chairs of the groups on agriculture and non-agricultural market access. The Government want an ambitious, pro-development outcome to the Doha development round and supports the role of the Commission.

Ukraine

The Council will be briefed by the presidency on preparations for the EU-Ukraine summit on 14 September. The Council is also expected to endorse a note, which the Government fully support, setting out the EU’s objectives for the summit, which include taking stock of developments in the EU-Ukraine relationship, and discussing the ongoing process of reform in Ukraine.

Sudan/Darfur

We expect discussion at the Council to focus on options for EU engagement in Darfur and the region, including a range of areas in which the EU could support wider international efforts to resolve the Darfur crisis. The Government welcome these options, which set out ways in which the EU can support the political process in Darfur, improvements in the humanitarian and security situations, as well as effective African Union and UN peacekeeping in the region.

The Government will emphasise the importance of keeping the focus on the long-term economic future, development and reconstruction of Darfur and Sudan as a whole. The international community, including the EU, must provide the necessary planning and support to make this happen.

The Council is also expected to discuss a French proposal for an EU military operation in Chad. The UK has long supported, including through UN Security Council Resolution 1706, the need for an international operation in Eastern Chad. An effective military force would be an important contribution to the regional strategy and the Government therefore welcome the French proposal.

Libya

External Relations Commissioner, Benita Fererro-Waldner, is expected to update the Council on progress in the case of the Bulgarian and Palestinian medical staff imprisoned in Libya.

Iran

The High-Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, is expected to brief the Council on his recent discussions with AH Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, as part of the EU’s agreed twin track approach. The Government welcome steps by Iran to resolve outstanding technical issues with the international atomic energy agency, but our position remains firm on the need to see full suspension, before suspension of UN sanctions can be considered.

Middle East

The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on the Middle East emphasising support for Abbas and Fayyad’s Government. The Council is likely to discuss support for building the capacity of Palestinian institutions and economic development, a position the Government support as an essential part of achieving success in political negotiations.

On Lebanon, the Council is expected to adopt conclusions condemning the bomb attack on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on 23 June in which six peacekeepers were killed, and reiterating the need to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1701 and 1757. The conclusions also welcome the meeting held by France to build confidence between the main parties and help work towards a reconciliation of the political crisis in Lebanon.

Western Balkans

Discussion is likely to focus on Kosovo. The Government will want to ensure EU resolve in seeing former President Ahtisaari’s proposals through to a successful conclusion.

Russia

The Government will brief the Council on latest developments in the Litvinenko case.

Zimbabwe

The Government will raise Zimbabwe to highlight the need for continued EU engagement in response to the deteriorating situation.

Resolution 1562 of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly

The Dutch have asked to discuss rendition, following a recent Council of Europe report.

Home Department

Taser (Police Use)

Taser has been available to all Authorised Firearms Officers since September 2004 as a less lethal alternative for use in situations where a firearms authority has been granted in accordance with criteria laid down in the Association of Chief Police Officers Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms.

I am giving my approval from 20 July 2007 for Chief Officers throughout England and Wales to deploy Taser for use by Authorised Firearms Officers in operations or incidents where the criteria for the authorisation to issue firearms does not apply, but where officers are facing violence or threats of violence of such severity that they would need to use force to protect the public, themselves and/or the subject(s) of their action.

I am also approving a 12 month trial of the deployment of Taser by specially trained units who are not firearms officers in similarly violent circumstances requiring conflict management. The trial, commencing on 1 September 2007, will be undertaken in the following 10 forces: Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Gwent, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Metropolitan Police Service, Northamptonshire, Northumbria, North Wales and West Yorkshire.

ACPO has produced new policy and operational guidance documents for both the extension and the trial. The Defence Scientific Advisory Council (DSAC) Sub Committee on the Medical Implications of Less Lethal Weapons (DOMILL) was invited to provide a fourth statement on the medical implications of the use of Taser taking into account the new ACPO policy and guidance. The DOMILL statement confirms that the risk of death or serious injury from Taser remains low.

All Taser deployments will continue to be monitored and a detailed report of every deployment will be produced. These reports will be collated by the Home Office Scientific Development Branch and summarised on a three-monthly basis for assessment by DOMILL.

I have placed a copy of the DOMILL statement in the Library of the House.

Justice

Court of Protection Fees Order 2007/Public Guardian (Fees, etc) Regulations 2007

I have today laid before Parliament the Court of Protection Fees Order 2007 and the Public Guardian (Fees, etc) Regulations 2007.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 establishes a new specialist court, the Court of Protection, with a jurisdiction to deal with decision making for people who lack mental capacity to make those decisions themselves. The Act also establishes a new statutory office holder, the Public Guardian, with a range of statutory functions under the Act.

The Court of Protection Fees Order 2007 sets out the fees to be charged for matters coming to the new court. The Public Guardian (Fees, etc) Regulations 2007 set out the fees to be charged for the services provided by the Public Guardian. The Regulations also make a minor amendment to one of the forms included in the Lasting Powers of Attorney, Enduring Powers of Attorney and Public Guardian Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1253).

The Department conducted a public consultation on the fees contained in these statutory instruments between 7 September and 29 November 2007. Some 65 responses were received from a range of parties including users of the current Public Guardianship Office's services, charities, voluntary and representative groups, legal professionals, public bodies and the public. The response to this consultation is available via the Department's website at http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/cp2306.htm.

Copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Transport

Ports Policy Review

The Department for Transport is today issuing an interim report on the Ports Policy Review. This Review was launched last summer by my predecessor my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr Ladyman), with the publication of a discussion document, “Ports Policy — Your Views Invited. A summary of the responses to this consultation are available to view on the Department for Transport's website www.dft.gsi.gov.uk.

Also published alongside the discussion document were reports by the Department's consultants, MDS Transmodal, on freight demand forecasts for ports, and on container transhipment. The consultants have updated some aspects of these reports and their further report will also be made available on the Department's website.

Sir Rod Eddington's report, “Transport's role in sustaining the UK's productivity and competitiveness”, was published in December. We are studying Sir Rod's recommendations and will respond to them later in the year. Several of these bear closely on ports policy and especially on the need to co-ordinate it fully with policy on each of the surface transport modes connecting with ports.

Also relevant to ports policy are the consultations, one recently closed and the other still in progress, on the Government's Marine Bill White Paper, and on the White Paper “Planning for a Sustainable Future.

I want to ensure that ports policy reflects emerging conclusions from each of these strands of work. It will not therefore be possible to complete the Ports Policy Review until later this year.

We are, however, already in a position to set out conclusions on important aspects of the overall policy framework for the ports sector. The Interim Report issued today recognises that commercial ports are best placed to make decisions about where and when to invest in the port sector, and that we do not propose any substantive change to the regulatory and operating framework for ports.

But it is the Government's responsibility to create the conditions in which investment is encouraged, and yet sustainability is ensured. This report sets out policies to build on the ports industry's success, including by:

commissioning demand forecasts every five years to aid assessment of national need;

recommending the use of Master Plans by major ports to improve planning;

setting out broad guidelines on the safeguarding of port land;

the pursuit of further trust port modernisation; and

setting out our plans to enhance the port safety regime.

In parallel with the Interim Report, the Government are also making their formal Response to the Transport Committee's report of its inquiry into “The Ports Industry in England and Wales(HC61-1). I am grateful to the Committee for having expedited its inquiry so as to contribute to the Review. We have accepted a number of the Committee's recommendations, and even in those areas where we have not found ourselves able to do so, the evidence-gathering process has very usefully complemented the Department's own consultation

Wales (Rail Planning Assessment)

The Welsh Assembly Government and the Department for Transport have published the Regional Planning Assessment for the railway in Wales (WRPA), the final document in the series of RPAs covering England and Wales.

Copies of the document have been placed in the Library of the House and can also be downloaded from the Department’s website at www.dft.gov.uk

The Wales RPA covers the whole of Wales and an area to the east of the border, including the Marches line which has an important role in north / south rail traffic for Wales. Key rail links into England are also included.

RPAs provide the link between regional spatial planning (including preparation of regional transport strategies) and planning for the railway by both Government and the rail industry, and are designed to inform the development of the Government’s strategy for the railway. They look at the challenges and options for development of the railway over the next 20 years, in the wider context of forecast change in population, the economy and travel behaviour.

An RPA does not commit the Government to specific proposals. Instead it sets out the Government’s current thinking on how the railway might best be developed to allow wider planning objectives for a region or country to be met, and identifies the priorities for further development work.

The Secretary of State for Transport is responsible for specifying the infrastructure outputs which central Government want the railway to deliver in England and Wales, and the funding available, over a five-year period. As co-signatory to the Wales and Border franchise agreement with the Secretary of State, the Welsh Assembly Government are responsible for the financial and performance management of passenger services covered by the agreement and any enhancements to it. The Welsh Assembly Government are also working in partnership with Network Rail to fund enhancements to the railway infrastructure in Wales.